Monday, November 28, 2011

Is it OK to Wear a Cape to Court?

Our warmest thanks to Attorney Joe Armonds who was kind enough
to grant his permission to repost  the panel above.  You
can find a new Overlawyered cartoon each month at

Faster than a statute of limitations. More powerful than a subpoena. Able to leap tall interrogs with a single motion. It's Superlawyer..... What is it about attorneys that have an incessant need to rank themselves among their peers? I can only imagine the seed was planted in law school where being first in your class or attending a first tier school meant better job opportunities. If you are anything like me, you probaby know a hodge-podge of attorneys who probably do not deserve their "Superb" ranking on, their AV rating on Martindale Hubbell or their Superlawyer status with Thompson Reuters.

Finally a reason to wear a cape to court.
  So do any of these rankings matter? Does being listed in the Who's Who of Whoseville make you a better lawyer? What about ethics rules regarding puffery and self promotion. The New Jersey Supreme Court once stated that the ratings could create an unjustified expectation of results for potential clients. Despite the ire of ethicists, ranking services have become big business as law firms dole out thousands to "enhance: their listings. It's gotten to the point where a cottage industry has developed that helps attorneys get on these lists. According to the ABA Journal, companies like Denver based PR marketing firm Alyn-Weiss & Associates even develop coaching and seminars to get you on the list.

I thought these lists were hogwash until I was notified that my AVVO rating was raised to "Excellent" and that I made the New England SuperLawyers list for Rising Stars. As such, it became abundantly clear that these lists do indeed have merit beyond rebuke. Joking aside, although I am sure that there are attorneys who try to work the system, I can see some merit to them. Search an attorney on AVVO and you can get an idea of whether they have been grieved, whether other attorneys are willing to recommend them or see a list of cases they worked on.

Despite earlier statements on the subject, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated that "[The Super Lawyers selection process] is a comprehensive, good-faith and detailed attempt to produce a list of lawyers that have attained high peer recognition, meet ethical standards, and have demonstrated some degree of achievement in their field.....Suffice to say, the selection procedures employed by [Super Lawyers] are very sophisticated, comprehensive and complex." It when on further to say that “It is absolutely clear from this record that [Super Lawyers does] not permit a lawyer to buy one’s way onto the list, nor is there any requirement for the purchase of any product for inclusion in the lists or any quid pro quo of any kind or nature associated with the evaluation and listing of an attorney or in the subsequent advertising of one’s inclusion in the lists.”

So how does one get on the Superlawyers list? According to Thompson Reuters, peer evaluations and peer nominations are combined with third party research. Each candidate is evaluated on 12 indicators of peer recognition and professional achievement. The list is limited to attorneys that can be hired and retained by the public. The list includes legal aid attorneys. Lawyers enter the candidate pool when they are formally nominated by a peer or the research department. In my own case, I have no idea how I caught the eye of the Superlawyer team. Working in a small practice, our firm does not have the resources to hire a PR consultant firm or the time to lobby for a listing. Lawyers cannot nominate themselves. If they could, you would have seen me wearing a cape to court much sooner.

Superlawyers does take steps to stop lawyers from working the system. They track attorneys who nominate each other in an effort to target "back scratch" nominations. You are also prohibited from soliciting nominations from your peers. Once your nominated, each candidate is evaluated based on 12 factors that include verdicts and settlements, transactions, representative clients, experience, honors & awards, special licenses & certifications, position within the law firm, bar or other professional activities, pro bono work, community service, scholarly lectures and writings, education and employment background and other achievements. The candidates standing with the bar is also checked. Only 5 percent of the lawyers in the state are selected. With Rising Star selections, only 2.5 percent are selected.

So am I a hero deserving your accolades and praise. I don't know. Probably. We would love to hear your thoughts on the subject of lawyer rankings.


Best Law Firm said...

Once a season, the lawyers from each state are invited to nominate the top legal professionals they have individually seen in measures. Lawyers may nominate legal professionals in their own organization, but these nominations matter only if each in-firm nomination is printed by at least one out-firm nomination.

Irene C. Olszewski, Esq. said...

Congrats, Adrian! It's a pleasure to know a Super Lawyer who also doubles as a Super Blogger. Ha!

quieten said...

Blogger; Politician; Super Lawyer. I do believe your stock is on the rise! Congrats!

Rich Cassidy said...

From one Superlawyer to another, I will admit that I feel a little funny about it, and more uncomfortable still, touting it. But I do. One reason I do is that I know that the quality of the cases I get is very important to my success and my satisfication. And another reason is because I do believe that more information is better for consumers than less.
Thanks for writing about it.
Rich Cassidy

Cliff Tuttle said...

As a non-Superlawyer, I take umbrage over law firms advertising their Superlawyers as among the top 5% of lawyers in the state, since only 5% are selected. Who is to say that they are not the 5% most vainglorious, or the 5% most expensive? I demand to see each and every one of them perform the lawyerly equivalent of leaping tall buildings in a single bound or stopping a speeding locomotive.

We, on the other hand, are the 95%!

95% of what?

Anything you want!

Cliff Tuttle

Adrian M. Baron said...

Thanks Cliff and Rich,

Technically I am a Rising Star. I think that we can all agree that I am well deserving of any accolade, award or ribbon bestowed on me. (kidding of course)I am aware of many attorneys who are far more deserving. I am not sure how I even made the list.